With swollen faces and missing limbs, Ukrainian fighters who for weeks have been defending Mariupol’s steel plant issued a desperate plea for help, seeking escape as pro-Russian forces in the city appeared to threaten an acceleration of strikes.
Mariupol fighters — faces bruised, limbs missing
The Azov Regiment, the nationalist group that is part of Ukraine’s national guard that has been defending the Azovstal plant, the last bastion of Ukraine’s defense in the shattered port city, on Tuesday shared photos of the injured fighters on its Telegram channel.
Some are pictured with missing arms or legs, while many sit with bandaged wounds, waiting for help that might not arrive as Russian troops continue their assault.
“The whole civilized world must see the conditions in which the wounded, crippled defenders of Mariupol are and act!” the regiment wrote in its post, adding that conditions at the plant are “completely unsanitary” and that the wounded are without access to medication and food.
The regiment said that along with those photographed, “hundreds more” are in need of medical attention because of constant shelling from Russian forces.
It called on the United Nations and the Red Cross to evacuate the wounded, who are being treated in makeshift hospitals at the industrial site — one of which was targeted in an airstrike Tuesday, local police said.
An estimated 300 women and children were recently evacuated from the sprawling steel plant, after weeks spent trapped underground at the site. Some who made it out said they had spent more than a month hidden inside cold tunnels below the complex, without access to sunlight or food.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said rescue operations will be increasingly difficult as his government had tried “all possible diplomatic tools” to evacuate the remaining soldiers but Russia had not agreed to any proposals.
Russian government-owned news agency Tass quoted the leader of the pro-Russian Donetsk separatist group in the city as saying Wednesday that its hands were “no longer tied” because civilians at the plant had been evacuated.
Ukraine’s soldiers vowed to maintain a foothold in the city and to fight until the end, as regional police told The Washington Post that three soldiers were killed Friday during the civilian evacuation.
There are conflicting reports about the number of remaining fighters and civilians within the plant, which before the war was one of Europe’s largest metallurgical factories, pumping out millions of tons of crude steel every year.
Officials said Saturday that all women, children and elderly people had made it out of the plant. But Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to the Mariupol mayor, wrote Tuesday on Telegram that Russian forces continue to bombard the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works complex despite the presence of “at least” 100 civilians there.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, speaking to Agence France-Presse on Tuesday, said that more than 1,000 Ukrainian fighters, many of them injured, remain at the plant.
Later that day, Police Chief Mykhailo Vershynin, who is inside the plant, disputed those figures, telling The Post that other officials’ accounting of the number of civilians was wrong, without giving further details. Vershynin said there are more than 500 wounded people in the plant and that that number is increasing “every day.” The Post could not independently confirm any of the estimates.
Ilya Samoilenko, an Azov lieutenant, said in an interview with Sky News on Tuesday that “words of support will not stop a bomb from collapsing our bunker,” a looming threat he said could become a reality in a matter of minutes or hours.
Samoilenko, who was wearing an eye patch, said forces have held out against Russian attacks — but their “fighting capabilities are far lesser than they need right now.”
His pleas came as Kateryna Prokopenko, the wife of Azov Regiment commander Denys Prokopenko, and Yulya Fedosiuk, the wife of Azov soldier Arseniy Fedosiuk, met with Pope Francis in Rome on Wednesday and asked for his help in rescuing their husbands and other soldiers from inside the steelworks, the Catholic News Service reported.
Serhiy Volyna, a commander of the 36th Separate Marine Brigade who is inside Azovstal, said in a Facebook post shared Wednesday that soldiers were willing to “give their lives for the motherland.”
Last month, Volyna told The Post that fighters inside steel plant were “dying underground” and called on other nations to intervene to secure safe passage for those wanting to leave the area.
Paulina Villegas, Annabelle Chapman, Amy Cheng, Adam Taylor and David L. Stern contributed to this report.